Monthly Archives: January 2013

May I have my old kitchen back now, please?

Maybe this project was a big mistake. Maybe we’ve bitten off waaaay more than we can chew. Weeks go by, nothing much changes. It’s not at all like an HGTV show.  We are still walking on the last layer of 1940s linoleum, we still have plywood countertops, and we still aren’t finished with the south wall cabinets. It’s been five months. Where is our new kitchen? I looked at some of our “before” photos, and I miss the old room … I want it back! It wasn’t so bad. Sure, it was kind of shabby and worn… with woefully inadequate storage and cabinet doors that didn’t close because they had so many layers of paint … but it was homey and mostly functional, well, sort of functional, and I didn’t have to fish plates or olive oil out of a crate in the dining room. (Okay, I did have to store some large pots in the attic, but never mind about that). This tunnel must be curved, because I can’t make out any light at the other end.

The upper cabinet doors are back from the glazier’s and they look gorgeous with their wavy vintage glass. I’d love to see them up where they belong, with our new hardware, but first I have to paint the cabinet where they’ll be installed. But wait—I can’t paint until I fill the holes and chips. Hells bells (as my mother would say)—is any of the paint in this house actually stuck to the surface it covers?? Every little chip is the gateway to a big peel. This house wears its paint not like a skin, but more like a loose jacket. (Is that why it’s called a “coat” of paint?) After troweling on wood filler and wall spackle, I still have to sand again before I can paint this section, and then it will have to cure for several days before we can hang the doors. I HATE prep work!

more peeling paint

And what about Eric? His enthusiasm must be flagging, too. The poor guy is still serving an indeterminate sentence down in the dungeon—I mean the shop. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him that the details of his face are getting hazy. Off and on I hear the sound of power tools, and a series of doors and drawer fronts—and lately the drawers themselves—have made their way upstairs. We must be making progress … it’s just hard to see because we’re too close to it. Right? Tell me I’m right!

Before I could paint the base cabinet doors, Eric had to make sure they fit their individual openings perfectly. He cleverly suspended the doors on homemade metal hangers that are just thick enough to provide the right gap on all four sides.

dry fit door

To attach the face frames to the cabinet carcasses, Eric laid each base cabinet down on the floor on its back and glued, clamped, and screwed the face frames to the boxes (the frames are primed but not yet painted). Using our kitchen as a kitchen became impossible. You can bet Duke was right there supervising, too. No matter how tight it gets, there’s always room for a boxer.

face frames attached

Last week Casey, our electrician, came by to rewire the stove and install a couple of outlets. This nasty ol’ conduit, a serpent from the basement, is now gone, replaced by the neat wall outlet in the baseboard. We can actually push the stove completely back against the wall now, gaining 1.5 square feet of floor space! The old linoleum is in really bad shape here, having been cooked  beneath the stove for decades.

stove outlet

But, the pièce de résistance is certainly our under-cabinet light bar. These dimmable LED lights shed a soft glow that made me fall in love with the kitchen again—even in its present state. I love the way the light softly washes over the battery charger and rotary sander.

night lights

Seen from below …

LED lights

Now that I’ve seen it in a different light, I guess I’ll keep my not-even-half-done kitchen after all. Reality: We are trapped and there’s only one way out of this mess.



And the winner is …

Thanks, everyone, for weighing in on the bin pull designs last month!  The responses were fairly even in favor of each, but I appreciate all your comments because you made me think. Here are the two candidates: the plain bin pull and the reed-and-ribbon design:

binpullreed and ribbon bin pull

After much shilly-shallying, I decided that the reed-and-ribbon pull, while attractive, and while it absolutely would look nice, just wasn’t the right design for our kitchen. My heart was temporarily dazzled by its pretty, classic design, but my brain knew I would regret not staying true the house’s simple 1913 soul. And then, unexpectedly, I rejected the plain bin pull, too—the design I’d idealized for years. Suddenly it just looked too large and dominant, with too much brushed nickel, and too modern for the many spots in our kitchen in which it will appear. (We’re going to have a lot of drawers.)

So I buried my nose in my Craftsman design books, determined to fall in love again. And I did. Here he is, Top Knobs’ Asbury bin pull (seen here nearly life-size):

bin pull 3I ordered them from, and they are perfect. Nice and hefty with a beautiful finish. Now I have the vintage design I need, not too big or too fancy, with just the right spark of brushed nickel to tie in with the rest of the kitchen’s metal finishes. I can’t wait to actually install them on something … but the drawer and door fronts are in the paint room this weekend, waiting for that lazy painter to shake a leg!

More Artifacts!

Time for a little show and tell. Our electrician, Casey, was at the house last week, prepping to install several hundred (at least!) outlets for our electrification. He rewired a basement circuit that had not one, not two, but three switches to isolate the furnace. He eliminated one of them—this beauty, patented (and probably installed) in 1917.

switch 1

On the back of one of the old kitchen drawers (which is now sitting, still full of silverware, on the bed in our spare bedroom) I noticed this tag.

woodwork tag

Eric did a quick online search and discovered that, according to The Timberman (an industry journal “Devoted to the Lumber Interests of the Pacific Coast”) of Sept. 1912, Interior Finish Manufacturing Company incorporated with a capital stock of $8000 in 1912, the year before our house was built. We assume Lipscomb and Reeves was the builder who did our kitchen’s 1940s remodel. The drawers have the unadorned fronts and rounded edges popular in the 40s and 50s. I had thought these were homemade cabinets, but I was wrong!

We are still waiting to find a bundle of money in a wall, but in the meantime, this stuff is fun to collect.


It feels good to vent

In the floor next to our stove is a heat vent, inconveniently located in a little nook formed by the backside of the dining room buffet and the furnace chimney. Eric is building a nifty little cabinet tower to fill that awkward space (more about that in a future post), and he wanted to switch the vent to a vertical position in the mopboard. This would blow the warm air right out at our tootsies when we stand at the sink to do dishes (which we will seldom do because we will have a dishwasher).

Off we went on one of our almost-daily trips to Lowe’s to buy a 90 degree elbow for the floor vent. These things are readily available and cheap. But … the elbows are 3 x 10 inches. Decorative vent covers measure 4 x 10 inches. Is it too much to expect that one would want the new vent opening to be the same size as the old vent opening? Apparently so. Why don’t they match? I’ll tell you why: Nothing about remodeling is supposed to be easy, that’s why. We bought a piece of sheet metal and a new pair of tin snips, and the too-small elbow to serve as a template.

Now, there’s a lot going on with this kitchen renovation that I fully admit I am incapable of doing on my own. Most of it, to be honest. (Don’t laugh—I could learn to build cabinets.) However, making this elbow is something I could probably handle. Back in the day, I sewed almost all my own clothes, and I was damned good with flat pattern design, construction, and tailoring. Sheet metal is no different than fabric … except that it can slice your finger off. So yeah, sure, I coulda done it myself … but Eric and I have an upstairs/downstairs division of duties. He uses the power tools in the spider-webby basement and I do the finish work upstairs where there’s only dust and fur.  In fact, I seldom venture into the basement. Eric claims that if he wanted to hide something from me, all he’d need to do is put it in the basement. And he’s right.

But back to the elbow project. Eric laid out the pattern and cut the pieces …

1 the pattern

Crimped and pop-rivetted them together … et voila: an elbow that fits. Can you tell which one is homemade? (Hint: it’s not the puny one with the bar code).

3 the vent

It fits perfectly. Isn’t this a charming little corner of the kitchen? I so love this photo.

4 the vent

Here it is installed in the mopboard, dressed in its decorative cover (not seeing the surrounding walls is a big relief). Why did I chose this particular cover design? You’ll find out someday when I finish painting the walls!

vent 7


The painter’s waltz

A few weeks ago, you’ll recall, I was bemoaning the results I was getting from my paint. No matter how careful I was, it was sticky and draggy. Mixing in a paint additive didn’t really help much (if at all). I was desperately disappointed with the finish. After all, this paint is going to cover a lot of our kitchen. People WILL notice. WE will notice.

It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I’m more of a high-expectationist. I know I can’t achieve a factory finish because I’m not using a sprayer or baking it on. But I wanted it to be smooth, and smooth it was not. Then, in the depths of my despair—This Old House to the rescue! I chanced to be watching an episode where the guys were evaluating cabinet finishes for a high-end kitchen. They decided to go with the one that was hand-painted: “Look, you can see the brush strokes! You know this has been hand crafted.” What?? Brush strokes are good? Even desirable? Hey, if a few brush strokes are good enough for Norm Abram, that changes everything. I had been pardoned.

So I consulted the TOH website for advice about paint. I needed something that flowed better, more like oil-based enamel.  Why not just use enamel? It’s winter. Drying time would take forever, and we have very limited space to lay pieces out to dry. Also, I didn’t want the clean-up mess. This is a big painting project, so there’s going to be a lot of clean-up for weeks to come.  TOH recommended a few brands, one of which was Benjamin Moore’s Advance, according to their website, a “100% alkyd formula water-dispersible alkyd, developed with proprietary new resins that keep VOCs low even after tinting.  It flows and levels like a traditional alkyd with the extended open-time required to achieve high-end finishes.” I didn’t even know what an alkyd formula was, but thought I heard angels singing. Sounded ideal. And expensive.

Advance Halo

Lots of stores in our area carry Benjamin Moore paint. Do you suppose any of them sell the Advance line? Heck, no! Off we went to north Seattle … and home we came, proud owners of a $52 can of BM Advance in Glacier White, and two adorable little mohair rollers.

Did it make a difference? Holy cow … YES. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.

If I ever worried how the Shaker-style doors would turn out, this upper-cabinet door frame (which will hold a glass panel) shows what an awesome job Eric is doing. They are perfect—it’s almost a shame to paint them. (By now, you know that Eric is the secret sauce that makes this renovation possible. Without his talent and diligence, none of this would be happening. I would be reduced to haunting various Home Depots, hoping to run into the crew from “Kitchen Crashers.”)

Cabinet door detail

Down in the shop, Eric created mounds and mounds of fluffy shavings with the router. This stuff is weightless, like a handful of wooden feathers! It’s everywhere, including on our wine collection. It must be good for something … if only we had time to think of what that might be.

feathers and wine

Back upstairs … I enjoy painting; it’s almost a meditative thing. But all the prep, well … it’s just plain tedious. Sand-prime, sand-prime, paint-paint, repeat. Sand-prime, sand-prime, paint-paint, repeat. Got it? It’s a waltz. And, like dancing, it can be physically demanding. Lots of bending and reaching, holding awkward poses and my breath as I roll on the paint, then following with a light brush stroke, up and back, following the construction of the door: vertical on the stiles, horizontal on the rails. Mopping up the edges with a little foam brush to prevent drips. Oh, my aching back! I can break a sweat standing in one place. It’s like working at a ballet barre … but with more comfortable shoes.

And did I mention? My Kit-Cat paint room has expanded to take over the entire kitchen. The doors are big, and the Kit-Cat Room can barely accommodate two of three. It’s the attack of the zombie doors! Eric has simultaneously begun construction of another cabinet across the room (more on that in a future post). I mean, who could function in this chaos? We sometimes try to restore order before we go to bed, but when we wake up, the zombie doors have left it looking like this (what this photo doesn’t show is the ever-present boxer standing right where we need to walk):

kitchen chaos

The doors must cure for several days before we can deliver them to the glazers. (We figured, let someone else cut and break the expensive glass.) Patience. In about a week, I should have something gorgeous for show-and-tell.

Norm Abram would be pleased.